The problems besetting the Co-op movement are about as bad an example of the destruction of a trusted and respected brand I can think of. It is a story that beggars belief, starting at the top with a Chairman who could not read a balance sheet and was on drugs. So sad. Years and years of brand building just straight down the plug.
It was a further indication to me of how modern day business has lost sight of its role and responsibilities in society. That was the theme of two presentations I had the privilege of hearing. One was by a sustainable development leader in the accountancy profession. The other an internationally recognisable rock and roller. One might have expected their views to be miles apart. As it was they were both plumb on the same agenda.
Saying more or less the same thing were Richard Spencer, Head of Sustainability at the Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales, and Sir Bob Geldof of Boomtown Rats fame but now a declared capitalist and highly successful businessman.
Richard Spencer was speaking at the annual Business/Political dinner of the UK branch of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development held in the historic environs of the Attlee Room of the House of Lords. Bob Geldof was key guest speaker at the Daily Telegraph’s National Business Awards ceremony at the glitzy Grosvenor House Hotel in London.
Guest Labour MPs at the UK BCSD event declared surprise at Richard’s focus on the social responsibilities of businesses. In a really testing speech, he said, for instance: “The financial crisis raised the question in the public mind of where was the audit profession in all of this and what was it doing? After all didn’t we trust them to tell us if these institutions were not performing as we were led to believe? We at ICAEW have begun an enquiry - to which all are welcome - called Audit Futures (AF). At AF we are asking how the audit profession can be part of the answer to restoring the public’s trust rather than being or appearing to be part of the problem. Implicit in this is a question about what does it mean to be a profession – what is that highest aspiration above and beyond the law that can be aspired to? Also it invites the question of what does it mean to be a professional? The answer to this must, if it is to meaningfully incorporate a notion of acting in the interests of the public and not the self, be about social purpose”.
Great stuff from Richard. And his speech was full of it. (copies via me if anyone wants one). Sir Bob, recalling the days of the early 70s when he arrived in England from Ireland and into a country struggling with strikes, poor performing businesses, high unemployment and youngsters who could not get a job, said – “who would have thought it would take a Prime Minister with a handbag to sort it all out!”
But, like Richard Spencer, he homed in on the wealth gap, the widening rift between the haves and the have nots, the social plight of so many in the UK, and he called on business to take greater responsibility and to provide the “philosophical and economic leadership” needed to turn Britain’s enterprise energy into social capital. He stressed that business and society are not separate entities and he urged all those who had been recognised for awards to consider how they play their part as corporate citizens. A new model of business was needed, he said.
Hurray for all that! Lots more good words. Anyone seen any sign of action anywhere?